Omnichannel Mystery Shopping: Why It’s Mission-Critical for Brands

Two recent news stories raised a lot of eyebrows in the retail industry. One was Amazon’s acquisition of Whole Foods; the other was the announcement that UPS will charge higher shipping rates for holiday deliveries.

These headlines have something important in common. They remind us that the more control brands have over the customer experience (especially when it involves multiple channels), the better.

Online order fulfillment, in particular, is taking on new importance across all retail categories. Whether it happens curbside, in store, or on the customer’s front doorstep, fulfilling online orders on customers’ terms—and using omnichannel audits to measure your fulfillment process—is essential if you want to increase customer loyalty and spend.

Consumers Have Unprecedented Demands

Consumer expectations for omnichannel order fulfillment and omnichannel returns continue to rise as industry leaders focus on minimizing customer effort and distinguishing every aspect of the customer experience.

Ease and Flexibility

Buy online, pickup in-store allows customers to avoid shipping costs and delays. Curbside pickup saves customers even more time. Home delivery is the ultimate convenience. But more than anyone fulfillment method, consumers want the freedom to shop their way. They expect omnichannel brands to cater to their needs, and do so seamlessly, no matter where the buying journey leads.

A Feel-Good Experience

Customers’ expectations for the experience itself will depend on the retail category, product type, and price point. For commoditized goods that are home delivered—with price and timing being the biggest factors in a customer’s purchase decision (What’s the best deal today, and how fast can I get it?)—a third-party shipping company’s practice of ringing the doorbell and walking away might be the perfect end to a perfectly simple shopping experience.

But for high-touch luxury brands, the question is, “What is our brand to our customers, and what do they believe the experience should be?” Any opportunity to connect, particularly at the end of the customer journey (which customers are likeliest to recall), is worth its weight in gold. Personal, one-to-one interactions can leave a lasting impression that seals the bond between customer and brand.

Omnichannel Measurement Puts the Power in Your Hands

It’s important to define the ideal omnichannel experience, right through to fulfillment. But that’s the easy part. The real challenge is to achieve the ideal and deliver consistently over time.

More Control Over the Fulfillment Process

More control over the fulfillment process equals more influence over the customer experience. This is why Amazon’s move to acquire Whole Foods is a brilliant one. Amazon now has an automatic footprint that’s nationwide, and each Whole Foods location can become an Amazon distribution center to lessen the need for third-party shipping. Groceries can be delivered almost anywhere, and service delivery will be entirely in Amazon’s hands.

Of course, Amazon won’t be the only retailer fulfilling customer orders from distribution centers and stores. But many brands rely on third-party delivery companies to (presumably) end the customer experience on a positive note. Omnichannel mystery shopping allows these brands to test their assumptions, address any issues with their carriers, and make strategic investments to enhance or expand their own operations.

Quality and Consistency Assured

Blind spots in the omnichannel experience are like death and taxes: they’re a virtual certainty. If you don’t use omnichannel measurement, you’ll never know where the gaps are.

Last holiday season, we performed a custom omnichannel audit for a luxury retailer. Our client wanted to know whether products delivered from stores (both gift wrapped and not) were received in the same condition as those delivered from distribution centers. As part of our study, we benchmarked our client’s gift-wrapping practices against those of its competitors.

Not only did the data provide our client with valuable competitive insights, but they revealed internal inconsistencies that pointed to the need for improved training for in-store staff.

This is what omnichannel mystery shopping provides: concrete, operationally significant answers to questions you might not know to ask. That is, of course, assuming your provider—unlike more traditional mystery shopping companies—is experienced at collecting omnichannel data and comfortable operating where ecommerce and brick and mortar intersect.

Not Sure Where to Start?

If you’re considering measuring the omnichannel customer experience, talk to us first. We can tell you what we’re seeing industry wide and help you develop brand-specific KPIs and goals. First step would be a benchmarking study (using our StellaService Index of 30 service leaders), so you’ll have the crucial context you need for your omnichannel mystery shopping data.